Thomas A. Stewart is the Chief Marketing and Knowledge Officer (CMKO) of the global management consulting firm Booz & Company. Stewart most recently served as editor and managing director of Harvard Business Review, and is a best-selling author, an authority on intellectual capital and knowledge management, and an influential thought leader on global management issues and ideas.
During Stewart’s six years with Harvard Business Review, the magazine was a two-time finalist for general excellence in the National Magazine Awards, and received an “Eddie” in 2007 from Folio Magazine.
Previously, Stewart served as the editorial director for Business 2.0 and as a member of Fortune’s Board of Editors. He is the author of two books, Intellectual Capital: The New Wealth of Organizations, and The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the 21st Century Organization, published by Doubleday Business in 1998 and 2003, respectively.
Stewart is a fellow of the World Economic Forum. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard College, and holds an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Cass School of Business at City University, London.
Question: What forces have shaped humanity most?
Tom Stewart: If you think back in history, there are themes of continuity and change. There are themes of … of country versus city. There are themes of tolerance versus intolerance. There are themes of progress versus anti-progress or the … the … of … of the … of progress. And I don’t just mean status quo powers, but I also mean anti-intellectuals and non-intellectuals … people who just, you know … primitivists. People who, you know … Taliban or … And I think that there’s a constant play between those forces. Sort of a historical bible for me are the … the … large, three volume history of capitalism. And there’s an observation that he makes in there that … that – it’s a large generalization, but it’s largely true – that before the Industrial Revolution, there really was not much economic growth. I mean the economic growth was per capita growth. If populations went up, growth … you know, economic activity went up. If there was a plague or war, populations declined. It went … it went down. And there really wasn’t, you know … there was a little bit of progress, but … per acre went up a little bit, but it was really slow. And then something happened with industrialization. And output per capita started going up, and real progress started happening. We’ve reached a … And that has been a profound change in the world. You know, so much of the world that we know would … So much of the world in our heads that we know would be recognizable to a Shakespeare or a Thomas Jefferson. But so much of the world that we live in and walk in and bicycle in and … I mean, a bicycle would be incomprehensible to Shakespeare because you couldn’t have made the wheels so … so that way. So so much of our physical world has changed that that’s got to be force number … force number one. At the same time I think we’ve reached this very scary point of … of questionable limits of that. I mean it’s clear that the biosphere can’t take a lot more. And we may … You know, we may have plenty of fossil fuel left. I’m not gonna get into the peak oil argument. I don’t know the answer to that; but we can’t afford to burn it. And so we’ve reached, I think, a point where we have got to change something if we’re gonna continue that other arc, which I … you know …I think we wanna do. I mean it’s been … For the most part it’s been good for the common mass of humanities and nostalgic people who think, “Gee wouldn’t it be nice to live in Elizabethan … in Elizabethan times” probably wouldn’t like the lice, and the body odor, and the early death, and the small pox scars, and all those other things … and the streets full of shit, and pee, and horse shit, and human … I mean, they probably wouldn’t like that world as much as they like it depicted in Kate Blanchet movies. So we … So I think we want to keep that and I think we have some real problems. So … And I think we’ve reached a … These … These other forces … the forces of anti-progress … the forces of non-progress … the forces of what you might call fundamentalist … – I mean, they may believe in God but they deny everything else – is … is … I mean these forces seem to be very strong right now worldwide in every religion you can think of and in every society you can think of. And getting through this transition in the biosphere and in our … and in the sphere in our heads is gonna be a pretty interesting challenge.
Recorded on: 6/22/07
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